There was a time when you had all the answers… were the smartest one in the room, the best salesperson, the most creative problem solver. It’s this kind of bravado that ignites entrepreneurs to take those risky moves and startup businesses in the first place. To bet on themselves and their dreams.

As companies grow, many founders find themselves struggling as these claims begin slipping away. It’s an awareness that sneaks up unexpectedly, is complex, and confusing.

You know your company has a better chance to thrive in a scalable and sustainable way when you’re not the fulcrum of expertise and skill. Employees are brought on and teams are built that complement your talents and challenge you. Overtime they begin to outpace and outwit you, and this is a good thing.

Yet I hear entrepreneurs grieve, “I realize I’m no longer the smartest one (or the best salesperson, or the most creative problem solver) in the company. I applaud this and the results it brings. And yet, I feel stuck because I don’t know how to be other than this.”

These vulnerable (and valuable) admissions are often accompanied by the shame of feeling surpassed and fear of incompetence around stepping into a greater executive leadership role.

This inner turmoil is real and makes sense. Especially if you’ve been leaning on your own expertise and talent to thrust you and your business forward. Years with this kind of effort, driving ongoing success and growth, can create overidentification of your worth with your technical abilities.

Power of expertise can be hard to let go. Especially when it’s your go-to source, you’re unsure what to augment it with, and feel awkward moving in new ways.

This isn’t your only option. Becoming aware of other forms of power, building capacity to leverage them, and discerning when they are appropriate are leadership skills you can develop.

French and Raven’s Five Forms of Power names coercive, reward, legitimate, and referent in addition to expert power. Contemporary researchers have added others like charisma, information, and connection. Early in our lives we often latch on to one of these forms of power… well before we start our businesses, well before we’ve left home, and often well before we’ve even graduated from grade school.

As you grow as a leader, your work is to build self-awareness around your go-to patterns and how they may be helping or hindering you and your team. On this journey, you can explore ways to compassionately let go of old ways, set a new vision for what’s being called for in your development journey, and seek support in growing the leadership capabilities you need to pull it all off.

This is the journey of transcending technical competence for greater leadership consciousness and, ultimately, effectiveness.


Weekly Mini-Practice

To help you engage with these concepts in your own Leadership Journey, here is this week’s mini-practice:

Alternative Sources of Power: This week pay attention to when you stumble into a sense of uncertainty or incompetence around your role as an executive and leader. Give a name to any emotions that come up and then take a few deep breaths to release their weight on you. Consider what other sources of power, beyond expertise, that might be available to you. What shifts could help you be better able to access and leverage these?

Originally published at on May 19, 2019.